Lyrical Ballads occupies a special place in this exhibition as the starting-point for any consideration of nineteenth-century English poetry and an emblem of unique poetic associations during the period. In the summer of 1797, William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge were neighbors. They spent many hours together, walked together in the surrounding countryside and discussing poetry. Their collaboration, Lyrical Ballads, published the following year without the names of either poet on the title page, was a conscious departure from the poetic past. The "Advertisement" explained that "the majority of the following poems are to be considered as experiments. They were written chiefly with a view to ascertain how far the language of conversation in the middle and lower classes of society is adapted to the purposes of poetic pleasure." The authors were aware that "discarding the artifices of poetical diction" would be controversial. Initial reviews and sales were poor. Wordsworth considered Coleridge's "The Rime of the Ancyent Marinere, in seven parts," the opening poem and singled out for criticism, a chief reason for the commercial failure of the first edition.
When Longman published the second, substantially expanded and rearranged edition in 1800, Wordsworth's name was on the title page and the percentage of works by him had substantially increased. "The Rime of the Ancyent Marinere," now entitled "The Ancient Mariner, a Poet's Reverie"-- and less archaic spelling, was moved to the end of the first volume. The collaboratively conceived, lengthy "Preface," in the end written by Wordsworth, refers to a "Friend" as the author of several poems, but Coleridge's name is not mentioned. Wordsworth continued to make changes to Lyrical Ballads in its third (1802) and fourth (1805) editions.
Wordsworth and Coleridge each included poems they had contributed to Lyrical Ballads in later collections of their own works, and the relationship between the two was never again as close as during the time it was written. While critics now see Lyrical Ballads, especially the later editions, as more connected to poetry of its period than a complete departure, the work continues to epitomize a new era in poetry that came to be known as Romanticism.